Friday, December 15, 2006

Clinch's Finn Tackles
Literary Challenge

"The average man don't like trouble and danger."
–Mark Twain from Huckleberry Finn

Author Jon Clinch is not one to avoid trouble and danger. At least not on the printed page. He has taken on the equivalent of Mount Everest in terms of literary challenges. Finn, Clinch’s first novel, is an offshoot of one of the giants of American Literature, Twain’s Huckleberry Finn.

The novel, set to be released by Random House on February 20, 2007, moves Huckleberry’s father from supporting role to spotlight. The official book description states, “It begins and ends with a lifeless body–flayed and stripped of all identifying marks–drifting down the Mississippi. The circumstances of the murder, and the secret of the victim’s identity, shape Finn’s story as they will shape his life and his death.”

Rather than being intimidated by working in the shadow of Twain’s classic, Clinch embraced it.

“The Twain context provided motivation and inspiration, but it was never a handicap or a source of fear,” he said. “Some people, including one or two famous authors who will remain unnamed, counseled me against writing Finn on account of the danger of working in Twain's shadow. I believe that they had no idea how seriously I was taking the idea, and how far I meant to push it.”

Clinch dove into all of Twain’s work as part of his research.

“I reread piles of Twain, since my goal was more to re-envision the world that he created than to recreate the actual world of the Mississippi Valley in the 1840s,” he said. “Certain external research did pay off, though. I discovered the history of the Illinois State Penitentiary at Alton, for example, which dovetailed nicely with Finn's history of criminality.”

In addition to Twain’s own work, Clinch drew some inspiration from others who had created new material within the framework of a classic piece of literature.

“I've only taken note of the biggest examples: Tom Stoppard's Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead, John Gardner's Grendel, Jean Rhys' Wide Sargasso Sea,” Clinch said. “I was delighted when Geraldine Brooks won the Pulitzer for March last year—not only because March is a fine book, but because her victory suggested that the culture is prepared to take this kind of fiction very seriously. And by "this kind of fiction" I mean fiction that starts with a known framework and a familiar set of elements, and then makes out of them something arresting and new.”

Jeff Kleinmann, an agent with Folio Literary Management, was onboard with Clinch early on. Clinch wrote the book over a five-month period, writing eight to ten hours at a stretch while working around his day job.

“The character, and his world, took over my life to an alarming degree—and I was frankly relieved when it was over,” Clinch said. ‘Folio's Jeff Kleinman and I found each other through another writer he represents. Based on the first 50 pages — all that existed at the time — I could see that he understood the book and was hugely enthusiastic about it; so we threw in our lots together. This was in August of 2005. Jeff spent the next four or five months cultivating editorial interest all over New York, while I finished the book.”

With the novel complete and the publication date set, Clinch now turns his attention to marketing the book. He already has the publicity wheels turning with a strong web presence at and a site exclusive to the book at

“The web is very important these days. Random House did a fantastic job on the site. It's loaded with interesting and useful information,” Clinch said “And there's more to come, including a full-blown Teachers' Guide. The team at Random House really believes in this book, and they've put their credibility and strength behind it.”

The ReadFinn site is interactive and even features some fiddle music in the background.

“The music on the site is a fiddle tune that I've loved for years and years,” Clinch said. “I tracked down the fiddler on the web, and he kindly authorized its use. You can find him at”

Clinch will begin an author tour on Feb. 26 at Olsson’s Books and Records in Washington, D.C. Midwest stops include a March 18 visit to the Harry W. Schwartz Bookshop in Milwaukee, WI, and March 20 at Borders in Madison, WI.


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